[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly church activities, Cultivating Community, published on Thursdays]
“If 10 percent of folks who purchase pets from pet stores would adopt instead, there would be no animals in shelters,” says Christine Gutleben, director of Faith Outreach for the Human Society of the United States (HSUS). “It’s a really solvable problem.”
June is Adopt-a-Cat Month, an appropriate time for a statistic like Gutleben’s to tempt a church to march down to a local animal shelter and adopt a bunch of soft, cuddly critters en masse. But that’s not exactly the answer to the problem of homeless animals. Although thousands of perfectly healthy, friendly animals are currently relegated to shelters, and nearly half of those animals will eventually be euthanized, these pets need owners whose care is stable, patient, and sufficient to last a long time—not just adoption by folks whose attraction to cuteness might be fleeting.
But while a mass congregational adoption might not be the best idea, there is still plenty your church can do to advance awareness about the need for animal adoptions and save the lives of thousands of God’s precious creatures:
Healthy animals land in animal shelters for a variety of reasons; they are not cast-off because of their health or behavior, and they require no less care and attention than the most pampered pet in the best of homes. Volunteering at a local animal shelter provides animals with the attention they need and shelter staff with extra assistance, but it is good to communicate with your local shelter to determine just what their needs are and how members from your church might help.
- Find a shelter: Use the HSUS’s shelter finder or petfinder.com to locate a reputable, responsible shelter near you. Your county may also have a public animal care and control or shelter facility where your service would be welcome.
- Get in touch: In conversation with your local animal shelter, determine where your church community’s help would be most useful. Does the shelter need a group of volunteers for an event, or just a few for daily responsibilities? Would volunteering be a one-time or recurring opportunity? Would any particular skills be helpful in taking care of the animals or helping out around the office? What is the age requirement for volunteering?
- Make a commitment: Depending on what you learn in conversation with your animal shelter about its needs, a group from your church or some individuals may have to make a time commitment to volunteering. Consider sharing that time commitment with others interested in helping, and greet the commitment as an opportunity to be a witness of God’s love to your local shelter and all who pass through its doors—human and pet, alike.
“One or two people can volunteer at an animal shelter,” says Gutleben, “but
building awareness about the need for adoption might be more effective.”
What most folks don’t understand about animals in shelters is that those creatures aren’t deformed or badly behaved or sick. They’ve simply been given up because they were too energetic for an elderly owner, or because a family experienced a job loss or divorce and could no longer care for them, or because they were purchased on a whim by someone who couldn’t give them the commitment they required. “When we’re talking about shelters,” explains Gutleben, “we’re not talking about discarded, unwanted animals … There are desirable breeds in shelters. … But people give up animals for all sorts of reasons. We live in a disposable society.”
The tragic part is that, because of shelters’ limited capacities, nearly 3 million of the 8 million animals that enter shelters each year are euthanized due to a lack of adoption. But churches, as communities of compassion, can help stop this trend by raising others’ awareness about the healthy, happy animals that end up in shelters, and encouraging more shelter adoptions.
- Spread the news at church: The Humane Society of the United States will eagerly supply churches with materials that can be included in church bulletins or handed out after service to raise awareness about adoption needs. Such resources include statistics and stories that will inform church members about the true needs of shelter animals, and encourage them to consider adoption in light of our call to care and compassion. There are also resources available for educating children about taking care of animals in a responsible way.
- Spread the news outside of church: Animal shelters often hold adoption days in pet store parking lots or on community center grounds, but they can also bring pets in need of a home right to your church. Consider hosting a pet adoption event as a way to educate your church community on pet adoption and simultaneously invite the larger community into your church’s space to experience God’s care and concern for these creatures. An animal shelter will bring animals and materials to you, and folks from within and outside of your church can meet the animals while you greet them and provide them with information to battle the stigma shelter animals so unjustly receive.
To Gutleben, one of the most exciting things to witness in a church is the growth of a small group from a gathering of folks who have a shared interest in the welfare of animals into an influential unit that expands its church’s awareness of adoption needs so that even the larger community gets involved with rescuing animals and loving them as God loves them.
“The model of a small group with an interest in animals engaging the congregation and the larger community,” she says with awe, “… it’s a ripple effect.”
Related Articles at Flourish
Children, Animals, and the Imago Dei
Not One Sparrow
The HSUS Shelter Pet Project
The HSUS Faith Outreach Department